Pertinent Information Regarding Australian Banking for Expatriates:
Due to the evolution of the digital age, it has become more commonplace to trust online banking. Once the online banking revolution occurred, it became possible for customers to contemplate the possibility of reaching multiple markets with commerce. From this came a need for currency exchange to flow more freely than it had historically due to the vast amounts of capital that needed to be exchanged across borders internationally daily. Historically speaking, banks had a monopoly on the market. To this end, banks were able to get away with charging astronomical fees to move money between markets to consumers and businesses alike. Due to this injustice, FX companies decided to fill a hole in the market that consisted of consumers and businesses that wanted to move money at a less expensive fee. One of the markets that were greatly concerned with this was Australia. Previously, Australian banks had dominance on financial transfers between markets. Due to Australia’s growth in the global economy, the need arose to get capital to many different markets.
Banks play a huge role in the Australian financial system, as they hold most of the financial system assets. Australian banks, particularly after their two-decade period of deregulation, are involved in all types of financial intermediation, such as trading in insurance, fund management, and also business banking.
Australia has over 50 banks, of which 14 are government-owned. It’s generally considered that the Australian banking system is very stable, which in part is down to their very sturdy house prices (this is partly why the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 didn’t put Australia into recession, unlike much of the rest of the world).
The central bank in Australia is called the Reserve of Australia (RBA), and they control the monetary policy. The current RBA interest rate is at 0.25%, the same as the Fed and Bank of Canada’s. This is very low — record-breakingly low — but it’s assumed that they will rise again in the coming years, assuming the economic damage caused by Coronavirus is limited.
Despite this, research performed by Oxera in 2006 showed Australia to be one of the worst value banking systems compared to the rest of the world. This was the case for young professionals, low-income families, pensioners and median-income families. One example of Australian banking being more expensive than the UK is that only one of the big four banks (NAB) has a free account. Compare this to the UK, and almost any bank has a free account — in fact, most banks are legally obliged to offer free bank accounts. The USA is more similar to Australia in this respect, too.
Like most countries, Australia has deposit protection for customers using licensed banks. It’s a generous one, too, at $250,000 per account and is protected under the Financial Claims Scheme.
Top 5 Australian Banks Based on Market Capitalisation
Australia has a very profitable financial sector, most of which is dominated by the big four — the four biggest Australian banks with top-tier market shares, assets, and revenue. As per the four pillars policy, these banks are prohibited from merging to maintain a competitive banking market.
Aside from them, Macquarie Bank is making it big in the industry, so you have five options to consider for your banking needs. Let’s take a look at the top Australian bank ranking in detail.
1. Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) — $167.17 Billion
Commonwealth Bank of Australia (or CommBank), formed in 1911, is the largest bank in Australia, with stocks traded on the Australian Securities Exchange. In 2021, it was recorded to have total assets worth A$1,091.96 billion, A$815 billion in deposits, and A$885,699 million in loans, driving the point home.
It is headquartered in Sydney and employs 48,900 people to handle a diversified range of activities for insurance, retail, business, institutional banking, superannuation, broking, wealth management, and other related services to more than 15.9 million customers, business, and institutional customers. CommBank also has 1,267 branches across Asia, Fiji Islands, New Zealand, the U.S., and the U.K.
The bank has 4,243 ATMs, one of the country’s largest networks It also comes with a mobile banking app that makes access to funds easy and seamless.
2. National Bank of Australia (NAB) — $87.15 Billion
The National Bank of Australia was formed in 1982 by the merger between the National Bank of Australasia and the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney. It is headquartered in Docklands and has over 900 branches across Asia, Europe, New Zealand, and the U.S., serving more than 8 and a half million customers.
In September 2021, the bank recorded A$925 billion in total assets. It employs 34,217 people (per stats from 2021) who provide exceptional products and services in terms of debit and credit cards, asset management, wealth planning, mortgages, foreign exchange, online banking, loans, savings accounts, overseas banking, and more to individuals as well as businesses.
NAB has more than 7,000 ATMs spread across its operational areas. But what’s noteworthy is that it does not charge monthly, overdrawn, transaction, or withdrawal fees, which sets it apart while making it an integral part of the Big4.
3. Westpac (WBC) — $76.39 Billion
Westpac was the result of a successful merger between the Bank of New South Wales (BNSW) and the Commercial Bank of Australia. It was established in 1817, making it the first bank of Australia.
It has 6 major divisions — business, consumer, Group Businesses, Specialist Businesses, Westpac Institutional Bank, and Westpac New Zealand — through which it delivers financial services to customers, businesses, and institutional banking.
Westpac reported A$1.01 trillion in total assets in the first semester of 2022. It currently serves 12.7 million customers in New Zealand, Australia, and other Oceanic countries, through more than 1400 branches.
Customers of WBC can get their cash from over 50,000 global ATMs via its partner alliances St. George, BankSA, Bank of Melbourne, selective Westpac Group partner ATMs (Precinct), Global Alliance ATMs, and Westpac Group partner ATMs, without incurring any ATM operator fee, which is great for digital nomads and remote workers.
That said, the bank was found involved in some misconduct surrounding interest manipulation, so you should bear that in mind if you plan to invest.
4. Australia & New Zealand Banking Corp (ANZ) — $69.65 Billion
Australia & New Zealand Banking Corp (ANZ), formed in 1835, operates over 1,220 branches in more than 30 markets in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. It is headquartered in Melbourne, has 40,211 employees, and provides superior services to 8.5 million retail, HNIs, small businesses, and corporate and commercial customers.
In 2021, ANZ had A$979 billion in total assets and $638 billion in deposits. It was even named the #1 institutional bank in Australia that same year, the 6th consecutive time the bank received this honour.
As for what makes it a good choice, ANZ is driven to improve customer experience. It set the record for being the first of the Big Four banks to offer Apple Pay, offering a digital-wallet experience that helps you stay at the forefront of banking solutions.
5. Macquarie Bank Limited (MQG) — $69.15 Billion
Macquarie Bank Limited hit a market cap of $77.5 billion in late 2021, making the big four the big five. As of 31 March 2022, the company, which is headquartered in Sydney, employs over 19000+ employees in 34 markets across the world.
It has A$399.2 billion worth of total assets and a total equity of A$28.8 billion, with most of its revenue sourced from asset management and investment banking solutions. Aside from that, it offers various services, including advisory services, market access, wealth management, specialist advisory, internet banking, capital solutions, and loans.
It’s important to note that although Macquarie has made it big in the banking world, it’s not held to the four pillars policy. So it could establish a firmer foothold in the coming years.
Surprises that One Will Encounter When Working with Australian Banks
There is a uniform process to qualify for a bank account within Australia. It is important that you are compliant with the requirements so that you are eligible to open a bank account and then be able to move capital both to and from that bank account. Here are three surprises to be aware of when dealing with Australian banks:
- There are two primary types of bank accounts: As is common in many jurisdictions around the globe, there are two primary types of bank accounts for consumers to consider in Australia. The checking account is your standard checking account for regular activity that comes with a chequebook and online banking. The second kind of bank account that is standard for most consumers is the savings account, where the consumer will be able to earn interest on the money that is kept there on a monthly or annual basis. For corporate entities, there are business account options as well that have requirements for opening, such as established business history from abroad or corporate registration within Australia. In the effort to avoid the establishment of shell companies, international banking regulations have become far stricter than previously, which is why corporations will have more hurdles to jump through before being able to establish a business bank account within Australia.
- There is a 100-point system that you must meet when opening a bank account in Australia: What is important to note is that a 100-point system measures one’s qualifications to open a bank account in Australia. For example, important documents, such as a passport, will be far more valuable than other requirements with a point value of 70 points. Each bank will differ in its requirements for opening an account in Australia. This is precisely why it is wise to research beforehand to ensure that you have the proper requirements to open an account in Australia easily.
- Be Aware of Moving Capital from Overseas to Australia and Vice Vera: Australia has a very strict requirement on the amount of money that is coming into the country. You must understand that amounts brought into Australia larger than AUD 10,000 must be reported to customs. Additionally, in reverse, Australian citizens will be taxed on capital that they are keeping abroad. The tax rate can sometimes even be as high as 45%.
Drawbacks to Sending Money Internationally with Banks
- Large Fees: One of the quintessential issues with sending money through banks is the hefty fees that are involved. A pertinent example of this is that individuals are resorting to sending money through agencies such as PayPal and Western Union in order to save capital. For example, Chase Bank charges $40 per international wire, whereas PayPal or Western Union charges around $25 depending on the transaction amount.
- High Currency Exchange Rates: Banks are notorious for having exchange rates that are far higher than FX companies. This is precisely why it is wise to research the currency exchange rate of banks in comparison with FX companies. More often than not, there is a great deal of capital to be saved from utilizing one rather than the other. Making a comprehensive comparison can save you a substantial amount of capital, depending on the amount that you will be transferring.
- Lack of Convenience to the Customer: Banks are pretty challenging to deal with in the sense that it takes advance planning to have your transfers arrive on time. That said, banks are starting to offer the possibility of an online transfer for international wires. Even so, banks still take the customer between three and five business days to transfer their funds from one jurisdiction to another effectively. This can make it quite difficult for the customer to be able to anticipate when their wire transfers will arrive to satisfy the demands of their finances.
Benefits of Sending Money with FX Companies
- Low Fees or Possibly Even Zero Fees: FX companies specialise in having low or zero fees because it’s a way to attract customers. Most people don’t choose their bank based on the overseas fees, but with an FX company, it’s their main pull.
- Great Currency Exchange Rates: FX companies have access to the interbank exchange rate, meaning they can provide near-perfect exchange rates. Some Australian banks will charge a 4% spread and a fixed fee on top, so a 0% or 1% spread with no fee
- Easy and Convenient: One aspect that makes FX companies far easier to deal with is their versatility with the modern consumer and their increasing digital needs. For example, an individual is able to transfer money both to and from Australia from their home or on their mobile device. Regarding sending money to and from Australia, it is great to look at sites such as SendMoneyAustralia.com to begin researching which FX company is ideal for their specifications.
Recommended FX Companies to Consider
- World First: World First is one of the FX companies and is known for a very high level of client satisfaction. They are particularly great when working with transfers that are both to and from Australia. Some of their notable benefits include a fee waiver for transfers above AU $10,000, AU $10 for transfers under $10,000, regulation by ASIC, fast international payments, and award-winning customer service.
- Hifx: Hifx is an FX company that operates based on high-level technology and high liquidity. It is one of the largest currency providers, owned by Euronet. They offer services in 60 different currencies and accept customers from Europe and Australia. If you want to know the differences between the two companies, please check World First versus Hifx.
- OFX: One benefit of choosing to work with OFX is that the ASIC regulates them, and their parent company is even listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). Their global support team is widespread in that they have representatives in offices in the following cities: Hong Kong, Australia, USA, Canada, UK, and New Zealand. Since 1998, they have successfully transferred over $100 billion and, due to this volume, are able to obtain better exchange rates than banks.
Concluding Remarks on the Subject
The Australian banking system isn’t the best model in the world but is highly safe. Although you may struggle to find a free bank account option, you’re covered for $250,000, and the whole industry has never collapsed as the UK and USA had. Australian banks are solid, but when it comes to sending money abroad or financing your business, you might find other solutions more favourable. You’ll save a lot more with FX companies in both fees and exchange spread and have an easier time using the service. Additionally, you will begin to see the diminishing value of working with banks that are notorious for extreme delays, increases in wire fees, and inflated currency exchange rates that will cause you to spend far more capital than you need going forward.
Read more Tips for Australian Immigration: